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Posted: Friday, May 30th 2014 at 3:26pm

NASCAR Preview: Johnson eyes return to championship form

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After a win in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Jimmie Johnson is looking to return to his championship stride this weekend at Dover International Speedway. / Photo: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images
CHARLOTTE, NC - Well, now that that’s out of the way, we can resume our regularly-scheduled regimen of highlighting races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule without talking about Jimmie Johnson being winless in 2014. The six-time series champion became a first time 2014 winner this past Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600.

Race winners are virtually assured of qualifying for NASCAR’s “playoffs,” the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, contested over the final 10 races of the season. And a Chase without Johnson? Unthinkable. And now, as if on cue, speculation has begun about a record-tying seventh championship for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet.

On a somewhat smaller scale, there also is speculation about the previously winless Johnson winning for the second week in a row, this weekend at Dover International Speedway. This makes sense, since Johnson already is the all-time race winner at the track called the “Monster Mile,” with eight victories over a relatively brief 11-year span. The first two Dover victories came in Johnson’s rookie season via a season sweep; the last came in 2013’s second Dover event.

After the 600, Johnson joked about his team letting people know “the 48 is awake.” On second thought, he probably wasn’t joking. Win six championships and a “game face” is pretty much a permanent fixture.

First things first, though. Johnson has won more times at Dover than any other track except Martinsville, where he also has eight victories. And over the next two months, he’ll travel to other friendly confines: Pocono Raceway (twice), Daytona International Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, having won three times at each; and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he has four victories, tied for the all-time lead with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.

“We're off to a good start,” said Johnson, a nod to his sixth-place standing in the series points. “If we can take advantage of the next few tracks that are great tracks for us, it would be great momentum. Ideally you'd love to (get hot) before the Chase gets started and carry that right into the start of the Chase. But you never know when you're going to peak and when everything's going to be just right. We'll hopefully peak at the right time.”

Added crew chief Chad Knaus: “(Something) we have on our side – we're going to Dover, which is by far one of Jimmie's favorite race tracks. Then we're going to Pocono, which is one of my favorite race tracks. Doesn't hurt. So I think over the next couple of weeks we're going to be in pretty good shape.”

Suddenly, “being winless” seems like so much ancient history.

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Fed Ex 400 from Dover International Speedway in Dover, DE beginning at noon on 102.9 FM and at 1 pm on 550 AM.

Nationwide Series: JR Motorsports Continues Hold On Standings Lead

JR Motorsport’s (JRM) drivers Regan Smith and Chase Elliott are the 1-2 punch combo that has much of the NASCAR Nationwide Series reeling. Smith and Elliott have held the series standings lead the whole season, swapping the points lead twice through 11 races. Call it what you will, but these two have Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s organization on the path to its first series title.

However, Elliott felt the sting of a poor finish (37th) which dropped him from first to third in the standings. He is now 28-points off the points lead held by his teammate (Smith).

“I can tell you one thing, we have some work to do before heading to Dover,” said Elliott. “Anything short of winning is just not good enough. This team can get the job done, so we’ll prepare to rebound next weekend.”

While Elliott rebounds, Smith continues to be unrelenting with his consistency. He posted a series leading 11th top-10 finish of the season last weekend at Charlotte.

The JRM duo heads to Dover with quite different agendas. Smith is looking to improve on his recent performances (average finish of 20.1) at Dover and hold on to the points lead, while Elliott is making a series track debut and attempting to make up the points he lost last weekend.

That may mean the time to capitalize is now for Elliott Sadler, currently second in the standings, five points off the lead. Of the top three drivers in points, Sadler has the best pre-race Driver Rating (90.0) and Average Running Position (12.8) at Dover.

Also Trevor Bayne, fourth in the standings 35 points behind Smith, will take a crack at closing the gap in the points this weekend. In five starts, Bayne has an average finish of 10.8 and a pre-race Driver Rating of 94.9 (7th-best) at Dover. In other good news, Bayne signed a full-time deal to drive the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2015.

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Buckle Up 200 from Dover International Speedway in Dover, DE beginning at 2 pm on 102.9 FM.

Camping World Trucks: Busch Aims To Match Personal Win Streak Mark

Although Kyle Busch hasn’t competed in every NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race this season, the Las Vegas native is three-for-three in his starts with wins at Daytona, Kansas and Charlotte.

If Busch can go four-for-four this Friday afternoon at Dover, he will equal a career best mark of five consecutive wins (Busch also won last season's finale at Homestead-Miami). Busch last won five starts in a row in 2009. If Busch can pick up the win at Dover, he would also become the first driver to win back-to-back races at the track in last 14 events.

Busch has also moved to within 13 wins of Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s record of all-time wins in the series (51-38) and the 29-year-old driver is on a pace to break that record in just a few years as he is averaging a win in every three starts he makes in his No. 51 Toyota Tundra.

Busch, who competes fulltime in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, fields two full-time trucks in the series splitting time this year in the No. 51 truck with Erik Jones, while Darrell Wallace Jr. competes fulltime in the No. 54 Toyota Tundra.

Busch has 73 top five finishes in the trucks and is just two short of tying Rick Crawford for seventh place in the all-time standings.

After he competes at Dover on Friday, Busch will make his next start in the No. 51 truck at Kentucky Speedway in late June. He will drive in a total of 10 events this season with Jones making 12 starts for the team.

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